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Snapshot: Tremaine Wills
Center Snapshot: Tremaine Wills. Image above: Tremaine Wills earned an academic scholarship to Hampton University, and she has returned to school to work on her Masters in Business Administration while working as a co-op at NASA Langley. Photo credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

Tremaine Wills' energy level is as high as her motivation, but that motivation really accelerated when she began to slow down.

She was junior, and a distance runner with the Warwick High School track team when she strained a hamstring in a championship meet.

"From there, my whole mental attitude toward the sport started to change," said Wills, who works as a co-op student in procurement at NASA Langley. "I wasn't as great as I used to be, and it definitely took a toll on me."

She healed, but her times in the 800-meter run didn't, and it became time to take stock of her future.

"After trying to recover and not being able to perform the way I had, after seeing my times get slower and slower and I wasn't able to compete the way I had, and after being in the back of the pack instead of at the front, I thought, 'OK, time for Plan B,' " she said.

It involved an understanding that a student-athlete was, first of all, a student. The student portion of her life was invested in the challenging International Baccalaureate program at Warwick, which opened her eyes after she took early childhood success for granted.

"When I was in middle school, I would maybe see one B on a report card in a year," Wills said. "When I was in the IB program, I started seeing Cs on papers and that forced me to think harder, to expand my mind and to expect more of myself. It made me understand that there's more to school than just learning for a test. IB taught me to acquire concepts and keep them, and not just to throw them away when the test was over."

At Warwick, she accumulated advance placement credits and enough knowledge to score 1,390 on the reading and math portions of the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Wills also was student government president and was voted "most popular."

It's the sort of resume that opens college doors.

"It was a blessing, really, especially because I wasn't performing at the level I used to and I wasn't sure I would be able to get an athletic scholarship," Wills said. "And college tuition is not cheap."

Motivation came from within but not completely.

"I had tried to drop out of IB so many times, but my mother wouldn't let me," Wills said. "I definitely had some strong motivation at home to do well in school. My mother wouldn't accept average because she did not think I was average.

"That made me understand that I needed to require more from myself."

Also, she admitted, "it felt good just to make her proud. (Motivation) definitely needs to start from home, and a lot of people don't get that and that's maybe why they develop an alternative motivating force."

She earned an academic scholarship from Hampton University, from which she earned a degree in business administration. While at Langley, she is continuing on in graduate work toward her MBA.

"I think I want to focus on finance, but I'm not sure yet," she said. "I think it would help me out in working with some of the contracts I'm working on (in Langley's procurement office). I think I want to take some courses in business law as well."

Wills still runs along Chesapeake Avenue in Hampton for exercise. Even while working fulltime at Langley and carrying a fulltime academic load, she finds time to volunteer as a coach with a track club she competed with in her youth.

Perhaps most important, though, is her work with a young woman who is about to graduate from Bethel High School. The woman is a student at the Communities in Schools Performing Learning Center, in a dropout prevention program.

"Her mom died," said Wills, whose ordinarily bubbly manner now turned serious. "She says I remind her of her mom. We usually have lunch on Wednesdays and talk about whatever she wants to talk about. To hear her talk about finishing school makes meglad that I can make a difference."

And it makes Wills understand what she has had.

"Fortunately I've been blessed to have a really strong background where I didn't have to experience some of the things that other people have gone through," she said. "I've had a lot of support, and some people don't have that and it hinders their performance. Just having a really strong, motivating family, I've been lucky to have people who are building instead of shutting down your dreams."

That sensitivity occasionally makes it hard to understand the world as it is.

"I think I'm a sensitive person," said Wills. "I believe in the golden rule. I see tragedy, and I don't like seeing people hurt. Sometimes I think we live in a broken world and I'd like to put a band-aid on it.

"I know I can't do everything, but I'd like to do what I can."

No matter how much energy it takes.

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